Today, the U.S. Department of Education released several College Affordability and Transparency Lists as part of its effort to help students make informed decisions about their choice for higher education. These lists are an important part of the Administration’s work to make college costs more transparent and to boost college affordability and accessibility. More broadly, this announcement reflects President Obama’s commitment to delivering a government that is more open, transparent and accountable to the American people.
“These lists are a helpful tool for students and families as they determine what college or university is the best fit for them,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We hope this information will encourage schools to continue their efforts to make the costs of college more transparent so students make informed decisions and aren’t saddled with unmanageable debt.”
The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA) called for the College Affordability and Transparency Lists to be created by July 1 of this year. Under the requirements, six lists will be created. Three lists focus on tuition and fees, and three others look at the institution’s “average net price,” which is the average price of attendance that is paid by fulltime students after grants and scholarships are taken into account. Each list will be broken out into nine different sectors to allow students to compare costs at similar types of institutions, providing the following information in simple and understandable terms:
|1. Highest tuition and fees (top 5 percent)||1. 4-year public|
|2. Highest average net price (top 5 percent)||2. 4-year private nonprofit|
|3. Lowest tuition and fees (bottom 10 percent)||3. 4-year private for-profit|
|4. Lowest average net price (bottom 10 percent)||4. 2-year public|
|5. Highest percentage increases in tuition and fees (top 5 percent)||5. 2-year private nonprofit|
|6. Highest percentage increases in average net price (top 5 percent)||6. 2-year private for-profit|
|7. Less-than-2-year public|
|8. Less-than-2-year private nonprofit|
|9. Less than-2-year private for-profit|
The lists highlight the institutions that have the highest prices as well as those schools where prices are rising at a fast rate. Those institutions where prices are rising the fastest will report why costs have gone up and how the institution will address rising prices. The Department will summarize these reports into a document that it will post online. In addition to the tuition and net price data, users can look up information on the prices of individual career and technical programs, such as cosmetology, medical assistance or vehicle maintenance programs.
The Department created the College Affordability and Transparency Center on College Navigator to host the lists. The site also includes a variety of other data about individual schools, including information on admissions, retention and graduation rates, and financial aid.
Gainful employment reporting
In addition to the College Affordability and Transparency Lists, the Administration is continuing other efforts to provide students and their families with additional data they can use to inform their choice for higher education. Beginning Friday, July 1, prospective students will begin to receive additional information from career and vocational colleges. Final regulations that the Department published in the Federal Register on October 29, 2010, require schools with “gainful employment programs” – those programs that are required to lead to gainful employment in a recognized occupation – to report certain information about their students. This includes:
- The median loan debt incurred by students who completed the program.
- The on-time graduation rate.
- The tuition and fees the institution charges a student.
- The typical costs for books and supplies (unless those costs are included as part of tuition and fees), and the cost of room and board, if applicable.
- The job placement rate for students completing the program.
- The name and U.S. Department of Labor's Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code of the occupations that the program prepares students to enter, along with links to occupational profiles on the U.S. Department of Labor's O*NET website or its successor site.
The Department requires institutions with gainful employment programs to disclose these details in promotional materials and on their respective websites. Additionally, the Department is developing plans to post this information on its own site, as well.
Net price calculator
The Department is assisting schools as they develop and implement their net price calculators. The HEOA requires institutions to provide students with a net price calculator by late October of this year.
The calculator will give students and their families an idea of what college costs would look like based on their individual circumstances, such as the size of their family and their family’s income. This information would go beyond a school’s “sticker price” to help students and families better estimate their actual costs to attend that institution, once grants and scholarship aid are taken into consideration.
To aid institutions in meeting this requirement, the Department provided a Web application that allows them to build a calculator for their websites; schools are also welcome to design their own net price calculator. By early 2012, the Department plans to include links to institutions’ net price calculators on its College Navigator site.
Previous consumer information and student aid efforts
These initiatives are all part of a greater effort to provide students with easy-to-understand information to help them make a smart investment for their postsecondary studies. In April, President Obama issued an Executive Order directing his Administration to leverage technology to strengthen and streamline service and make government work better for the American people. The Administration has worked to both boost the transparency of college costs and make sure students have more resources to pay for college, and the Department continues to engage in conversations about how to provide additional information to help students make informed choices.
For example, the College Navigator site now includes a wealth of information about the nation’s colleges and universities, including a multi-year tuition calculator, average net price data and other financial aid statistics. In addition, the Department continues to regularly publish cohort default rates for each institution, and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) now has consumer information about each school that students and families can access as they fill out the form. The new College Affordability and Transparency Center looks to further these efforts.
In addition, there are an increased number of resources available to students to help them pay for college. The Administration has dramatically increased Pell Grant funding by more than $40 billion; increased tax incentives for higher education by more than 90 percent through the American Opportunity Tax Credit; simplified the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, making it easier for students to apply for grants and loans; provided common-sense student loan repayment options with the Income-Based Repayment program; and implemented a program that forgives student debt after 10 years of public service following graduation.